By Shereen Shabnam
After a few delightful days in Prague, we took a train to Budapest to experience the city’s rich history, natural sites and their thermal springs. I expected my second visit to Budapest to be an adventure going into areas not discovered in my first trip but I was drawn once again into doing everything I did before and more.
The Danube cruise is magical and the view of the city from Gellert Hill is a breathtaking experience as always but Budapest has so much more to offer. My first task was to find a hotel conveniently located in the centre of the city and the Radisson Blu Béke Hotel, Budapest fit the bill perfectly.
My daughter was adamant about going into the House of Terrors and I reserved this for the last day so she could walk there from the hotel while I could shop during her tour. The hotel allows guests to experience history without sacrificing modern amenities as all rooms provide individual climate control and Free high-speed, wireless Internet, while Olive’s Restaurant and Zsolnay Café serve freshly prepared meals and desserts.
We took a private tour of the city, divided into 2 parts by the Danube. Buda, the hilly area, lies west, while Pest lies to the east of the river and both have historic sites so the tour ensured we cover both sides depending on our interests with an English-speaking guide.
The Castle Hill area is perfect as well to view the city and it houses several museums and galleries showcasing the history and culture of Hungary. It is a great place for taking pictures. Matthias Church, one of Budapest’s architectural masterpieces looks stunning and makes a perfect backdrop while the Fishermen’s Bastion, built on the site where the old fish market stood in the Middle Ages even attracted newly weds doing their wedding portraits on site. The Bastion’s walls, staircases and domed turrets offer picturesque views overlooking the Danube.
Our guide took us to Gellert Hill, a 140-metre dolomite cliff which I feel has the best views of the city. You can also see the statue of St. Gellert and we looked at large blown up images of the city in the past and how it looks today.
We passed the Chain Bridge and later saw it again in all its glory at night during the river cruise at night. Another elegant bridge over the Danube is the Elisabeth Bridge, named after King Franz Josef I’s wife, Elisabeth.
On the other side of the river, Pest has wonderful palaces, churches, monuments and squares, as well as being the commercial hub of the city. St. Stephen’s Basilica has many beautiful mosaics, paintings and sculptures, including one of St. Stephen wearing a halo.
The Parliament Buildings looked stunning in the day and even more majestic at night. It is Budapest’s most famous building with the most beautiful exteriors and interiors. We loved the performance by the Palace guards that attracted bus loads of visitors to the Palace.
Our next stop was the Heroes Monument area, a vast, paved square featuring a 36-metre column with a statue of Archangel Gabriel on top. At the base, there are several statues of Magyar chieftains and behind the column and on either side of it, there are two semi-circular colonnades, with groups of horsemen on top and statues of past Hungarian rulers within the square.
The Margaret Island in the centre of the Danube is a recreational hub that has numerous recreational activities like biking, swimming or visiting a bathing complex, with thermal pools. If you prefer nature, then head to the City Park that has a large lake, which, in winter, is used for ice skating, a fairytale castle, the Transport Museum, the Szechenyi Baths with hot springs, an amusement park and Budapest Zoo.
On our return to the Radisson Blu Beke, we relaxed in the hotel Café that boasts the best pastries. The hotel also offers an indoor pool, a business centre with secretarial services and eight flexible meeting rooms. I loved the one with paintings all over the wall.
Budapest indeed caters to all tastes; there is a thriving theatre culture, classical concerts, jazz, outdoor activities, opera, much to my daughter’s delight and great food options. I need to get back there with more time to soak in the mineral water that comes from various thermal springs surrounding the city.
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